Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Coming Wait

I don’t know about you but, most of my life I’ve learned lessons, not when they were taught to me in a classroom, but rather when I needed to learn them. Math is not my biggest strong point. Take fractions for instance, I never understood them for the longest time. I was taught the subject several times throughout elementary, junior high and high school. Did I understand what the teacher was talking about? Not one bit. They never made sense to me. Pie into pieces gives you 1/2, 1/4, 1/8? Who cares! I just want to eat it. But then I started to work in construction and we dealt with eighths. That’s when I started to understand how to covert them, a 1/2 is 4/8s, 1/4 is 2/8s. I began understanding how to add them, 3/4 and 3/4 equal 1 & 1/2. Same with subtracting. But since I never multiplied or divided them, I still can’t do that. But I began to understand fractions.
The same is true in my walk with God. A lot of the lessons I’ve learned had to be learned through experience. I’ve had to get beat up sometimes in order to learn the lessons that deepen and strengthen my relationship with God. But is that the only way to learn, or is there a better way?

That’s where we come to the book of Isaiah chapter 26 today, a place where through Isaiah, God tries to get us to understand an alternative way to learn what he has to teach us.

As we jump into the book of Isaiah chapter 26, we need to know what is happening to get us to where we are.

Isaiah is the prophet that a lot of people think of when they think of prophecies about the Messiah. There’s about thirty-two that Isaiah speaks of. Famous ones like, being born of a virgin (7:14), authority over nations (9:6), and his titles (9:6).

But Isaiah’s primary job was to for tell the destruction that was about to happen to the nation of Judah. So let’s make a short timeline of Jewish history, to better grasp what’s going on. At the beginning of King Solomon’s son’s (Rehoboam) reign as King of Israel, the nation of Israel split into two.  It happen because the son was a fool and didn’t listen to his advisors (Literally this is the definition of an fool Proverbs 15:2). So the kingdom of Israel split in two. The northern kingdom continued to be called Israel, with the majority of tribes siding with them, while the southern kingdom became Judah, because it was the primary tribe and followed the linage of David. Out of the two, the northern kingdom tended to be the more wicked, but Judah wasn’t pristine either. 

In fact, because of the animosity between the two kingdoms, when Israel called on Judah to help them against the Assyrian forces that were trying to expand their territory, Judah refused and was eventually attacked by Israel. This led Judah to seeking the Assyrians help, which eventually led to the downfall of the northern kingdom. The prophet Isaiah spoke against allying with Assyria, and later against allying with Egypt and Babylon. But his warnings went unheeded, and eventually the nation of Judah fell. 
It is during the Assyrian alliance period that we enter into the book of Isaiah in chapter 26. A chapter that is nestled between several of God’s messages for other nations, and the nation of both Israel and Judah. Chapter 26 is one of two songs that Isaiah sings about God, and what he will do in the future.
Let’s pick it up in verse 1.

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts. 2 Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith. 3 You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. 4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.

Isaiah put his focus on the city of Jerusalem representing the whole of God’s work in bringing his people back to himself. Isaiah’s song, is meant to be encouraging. All the destruction that will happen, will lead to greater things. All the problems that Judah will face, God will make them right. All the sins that it has committed, God will judge with justice. All the times the Jewish people have turned their backs on God, God will bring about peace for those who trust in him.

Isaiah continues this understanding in verse 19, 

But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.

And it’s this to and fro of God’s people accepting God’s word, then rejecting it, then experiencing the consequences of their rejection, then calling upon God, just for God to make it right in the end. We talked about this cycle of the Old Testament several week ago in our Descent series. 
In Isaiah it has come to the boiling point, to which God begins to more fully reveal the work of the Messiah that is to come. So God uses Isaiah and the other prophets of his time, to let people know that the nation of the Jews, as it was first envisioned, is about to fall. There will be a time when the Messiah will come and restore all things, and God will then dwell with his people. But it will be different than the nation state that they are experiencing now. 

So then, what does God want his people to do when they are in this time between destruction and restoration? What does God desire from his people as they are dealing with the pain of the moment and future peace?

Isaiah gives us the answer in his song. In verse 8 he says, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts..”
I think one of the major things we miss in Scripture is the waiting on the Lord that we are called to. I don’t mean that we don’t talk about trusting and waiting upon God, we quote verses like, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…(Proverbs 3:5)”

But do we fully comprehend the wait aspect of trust that God calls us into? I mean think about it, what does trust in God mean? We tend to use the idea as a back up plan. “I have no other place to turn to, so I guess I have to trust God.”
And even though the thought is actually correct, there is no other place to turn except God, it’s the attitude behind it that’s the problem. We tend to do things in our own power first, before we move into trust.
When Judah wanted to ally itself with Assyria against the northern kingdom, Isaiah told them not to, but rather to wait upon the Lord. The kings wouldn’t listen, so in their own power they made an alliance with Assyria against their brothers Israel. Then when the northern kingdom fell, Judah realized they were next, and again in their own power, they sought other nations to help them. All the while Isaiah kept telling them to trust and wait on God.

We do the same thing, we tend to trust God, after we have exhausted our own resources. We do everything our power can do, and we forget that there is a wait aspect to it. 
I want to share with you a story that some of you know, but is generally unknown to most of you. Several years back there was a movement within our church that believed it was necessary do away with both the van ministry and the youth pastor position. Opting instead to make the youth pastor position volunteer. I tell you this, not to talk about this movement, but rather my response to it.
Even though I knew this was where God wanted me, I began to feel like I needed to make plans for the future. So I began to send out resumes to different youth pastor positions. My thought was, I didn’t want to be out of a job and have nothing for my family, so I began to plan. The two sides of me were at war, I knew God had called me here and wasn’t done with me in this place, yet I wanted to create a safety net for my family just in case.
Every resume that I sent out got me an interview and for about two years, every time I would apply for a position, I would reach the end of the process and not be chosen. The pressure of the situation got so overwhelming one time, that I exploded at a teen who was being a jerk to me.
Instead of waiting on God to see what was going to happen, I tried to force the outcome so that I would feel more in control.

I tell you this, because it’s something I think we easily slip into. Just a quick study of Scripture reveals how easy we fall into the trap of non-waiting. The need to wait on God usually is talked about when we have exhausted our options and now need to be reminded to trust and wait for God’s movement. 
If we look at the Old Testament, we really start to see the talk about waiting on God be begin to happen around the Psalms, where people are dealing with life and death situations. But it really picks up in the prophets, where God’s judgment is about to happen, or has just happened.  It is where all options have been exhausted that the call to wait is sent out to the people.
Then in the New Testament, we get really no mention of waiting on God, until Acts, where Jesus tells his disciples to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then the other writers tell us in their letters about waiting for the return of Christ. These New Testament letters were written to help the believers trust that God will make all this right in the end at his coming.

But in my own life, after that experience of exhausting all my options, I came to a realization: God doesn’t want me to treat him like he’s the last option, but rather he is the only option. Too often I work really hard to make things work, but while I do that I have become like Judah who took their eyes off the Lord. Who make alliances with other nations, put trust in other sources, instead waiting upon God to work his plans out.
Throughout Isaiah’s writing, his preferred title of God was the Lord of Hosts, which points to God being all-powerful. 
Isaiah had to remind the people that God is all-powerful, they didn’t have to worry about what was going to happen, instead they were supposed to make God their first option and wait on him to act.
But in waiting, they were supposed to being doing something as well, and it’s actually what they weren’t doing that got them into trouble in the first place.

Back in verse 8, Isaiah says, “we wait for you.” That little praise is nestled in-between two statements: “walking in the way of your laws…your name and renown are the desire of our hearts..”

This is the lesson Isaiah desired for his people to learn, and this is the lesson that God has for us this coming year. We must wait on him, true, and what do we do while waiting? We walk in his ways, and desire his renown.
In a couple of weeks we will be starting a series called Legacy, which will pick up on this second idea. But as we go into the new year, God is calling us to be a people who wait on him as we walk in his ways. 
We are to be a trusting people who move at his command. We are to be a people that wait for him to act, and trust in him as our first resort. And as we do, we consul ourselves to doing as he commands. Walking in his ways, doing what he has already told us to do, accomplish those things he has put in our path to accomplish, and leaving the rest in his hands.
What has God said? That is what I must do as I wait for him to move. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Over time, I have become a proponent of learning a lesson before I need to. Why learn a lesson after you’ve been disciplined? I’ve learned way to many lessons like that before, and I don’t like the pain. Instead, God calls us to learn lessons before hand, so even if we face trials and tribulations, the lesson we have learned will get us through it with greater assurance.
So I want to trust God now. I want to wait on him now. I want to walk on his path now, because I don’t want to get into a situation where I am forced to do it. I want to walk in his ways now, and his way is the way of trust, of waiting on his move.
If we learn God’s lessons because we desire to conform our will to his, then we will be walking in his ways and waiting on him, something the nation of Judah didn’t do.

So today, as a sign of trust, as a sign of waiting on what God will do through this church in the year to come, and a sign of walking in the ways of the Lord, I have asked the elders to step out in faith with me and ask that we not take a regular offering today. So we are not going to pass the bags.
I don’t know what this coming year has in store for us. I don’t know what trials we will face. All I know, is that we are called to trust in God. We are called to wait upon his work. And we are called to walk in his ways.
So we are not going to take up a regular offering, instead if you so choose to give, there will be a little wooden church box on the welcome table for those offerings. But as a leadership that has been placed here by the grace of God, we want to lead in a way that says we will trust, wait and walk with our focus on God for all things. And we want you to know that you are not banks to us that we use for our own gains, but rather we are co-workers in what God has called us to do in Quartzsite. And together we will accomplish the work God has set out before us.

And so I end with this challenge for you: what is one area of your life where you’ve let God become the last option to trust? 
This year, make God the first option, the only option to trust in that area. Wait for his actions, while you do what he has already commanded through his word. 
God has called us to make him our only option in the finances of the church, and we want to walk in his ways and not our own. Where is he calling you to make him your first option? Where is he calling you to wait? Where is God calling you to walk? Let us be the people who wait upon the Lord in all things, that his name would be renowned among the nations. 

Now may God give you the strength to wait upon his movement that we may glorify him. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Descent Week 4, God’s Last Descent

As most of you know, I like baseball. More exact, I love to play it and coach it. Since I was five years old, there has been only one year where I didn’t play, until I was a senior in college. In my home town, at the start of every spring, they had a big parade marching the baseball players through the town to the local park. From the t-ballers at 5 years old, to the senior league at 16, and the fan fair was huge. 
But there is one thing I never liked about baseball in little league or in high school ball, and that was the time limit rule. Because baseball isn’t like other sports where there are time limits. But in the younger leagues they impose a time limit, because no one wants to be there all day long watching a 100 point game. 
Now, I’ve been on teams where I’ve welcomed the time limit, because we were getting trounced by the opposing team. I’ve also been on teams where I’ve been doing the trouncing, and I welcomed it there too, because those games are really no fun either. But the reason I despise this rule, is because of three games I’ve been involved in. 
One happened in little league when I was in the senior division, the other one happened in high school, and the third was when I was coaching for a high school team. In each of these games my team was down, and in each of these games we were on a comeback. The games went all the same way. Our team started off slow, and the other team shot off. But by the fifth inning we were coming back. Our bats came alive, and our defense finally was holding. The momentum had shifted in our favor. And as we ended the sixth inning, the Umpire would stand up, and in a loud voice, call the game on account of time. One maybe two, runs were all that we needed. The other team’s players were exhausted, but ours had adrenaline pumping through at break neck speeds.
But with the Umpire’s words, we hit a wall going a hundred miles per hour. And it’s because of these three games, that I have come to loath a time limit in baseball, because it’s unnatural for the game, and I feel like it cost me three victories.

And it’s this idea of a time limit where we find ourselves in our Descent series on this Christmas Sunday. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to start off in the book of Acts chapter 1, using it as a jumping off point for our talk today.

But before we get into Acts chapter 1, verse 6, let’s bring ourselves up to speed where we’re at in the our Descent series so far. 

In our first week of our Descent series, we talked about God’s purposeful creation. How you and I are created by God out of his desire for us. We are not randomly here as ancient creation accounts or modern naturalist believe. No, we are here because God wants us to be here. And not only does God want us to be here, he created us to be in relationship with him. This is the first descent, God’s descent in creation.
Then on our second week we talked about how, we broke our relationship with God, because we wanted to go our own way. How we desired not to listen to God’s created order, but instead try to run our lives and the world around us, on our own terms. This breaking of relationship with God, is called sin. Desiring our way over God’s way is sin. Sin is taking what God designed, and distorting it, and using it for our own purposes, rather than his. This is why lying is sin, because it distorts the truth. This is why sexual promiscuity is a sin, because it distorts God’s created purpose. And the list can go on. And so we see in the Old Testament, a cycle of God working to restore our relationship back to him. This cycle begins with God reaching out to people, people accepting him, then turning their backs, then the consequences of the people’s actions occur, and they cry out to God, which God again reaches out to his people. But God wants to bring a permeant fix to this cycle. And so we see this as the second decent, God’s descent in our need.
That brings us to last week, where we saw that there needed to be a bridge between God and humanity. We saw this in the book of Job, where Job recognized that we need someone that was equal to God, yet was like man. This is who Jesus claimed to be, God made flesh. God who came down to be with his creation as one with his creation. He paid our sin debt that we have been building up. And death is how this debt is paid. So Jesus pays our debt with his own life, so that a bridge between God and humanity can happen. This is Christmas, and when we accept what Jesus has done for us, we can then enter into a right relationship with God, because God has done everything for us. And all we have to do is accept it. We accept we’re a sinner, we accept we can’t fix it, we accept Jesus paid the price for us, and we accept him as God and Lord of our life, living for him the rest of our lives. This was the third descent, God’s descent in Christmas.

But we talked about how there is one more descent left. And it’s this descent that will lead us into an enteral joy, or an eternal sorrow. So let’s pick this up in Acts chapter 1, starting in verse 6, where Jesus has raised from the dead and is talking with his disciples one last time while on earth.

6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Jesus goes up to heaven, and to his disciples, they don’t understand. See, their thought from the moment they started following Jesus was that he was working to make the nation of Israel a powerhouse over all the other nations. They thought Jesus was going to free them from the oppressive rule of the Romans, and make them great over everyone. And so their question speaks to this idea, but they still were not fully understanding the plans of God. Jesus leaves them, so that they would be filled with the Spirit of God, and so they would carry the message of Jesus to the ends of the world. 
But, as Jesus ascends, the disciples were given a promise, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Jesus will be back. There will be a time when Jesus will return. When is that? Jesus tells us a few verses before, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

So we don’t know the time, but what we do know, is that he will return. About 50 times, the NewTestament it speaks of this promise of Jesus’ return. From Jesus’ own words in places like John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
To the book of Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

The promise of Jesus’ return is confirmed again and again throughout the Scriptures. And this a physical (Zechariah 14:4), and visible return (Matthew 24:27). Everyone on the earth, will know when it happens. The book of Revelation chapter 1, verse 7 says this, “‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’ So shall it be! Amen.”

But did you catch that last part of that verse? “…and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him….’”

Wait a second? Shouldn’t Jesus’ return be a happy time? God has come back! He has fulfilled his promise! Shouldn’t everyone be rejoicing? Why would anyone be morning?

Philippians 2 sheds some light on why people would be doing this. “10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

C.S. Lewis in his book the Great Divorce, says this about the attitude of people when their knee will bow. “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done (pg. 75).’”

See, those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior; who have sought after God; who have desired God’s restoring relationship, they will rejoice in Jesus’ appearance. They will bow out of reverence. They will bow out of love. They will bow because Jesus is their rightful King. They will say to God your will be done. And on that day, the promise of God will be fulfilled.
But those who have rejected God; who have sought to flee from God; who have desired to have no relationship with God, even mocking God’s gift of right relationship, they will mourn at Jesus’ appearance.  They will bow out of fear. They will bow because Jesus is the rightful King. Because they wanted their will to be done. And on that day, they will detest that God fulfilled his promise.

C.S Lewis goes on to say in the Great Divorce, “All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desirers joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened (pg.75).”
And it might sound strange to bring up Hell on a Christmas Sunday, but the reality, is, the purpose of Christmas is for us to realize everything God has done to keep us out of Hell. God created us to be with him because he desires for us to be in relationship with him. And only in relationship with him are we fulfilled.
In our rebellion of sin, wanting to do things our own way, God still pursues us because of his great love for us. God knows the consequence of our sin, it’s death. God knows the eternal consequence of our broken relationship, it’s Hell.
And so God does everything possible to get us to realize his extreme love, by the Son coming to earth as Jesus and dying for us. 
And his promise is, Jesus will return. But, will we be ready? Will we be welcoming him with joy, bowing to him, out of love. Or, will we not be ready? Receiving his coming with sorrow, and bowing down in obligation of defeat?

Christmas is a joy to all those who accept the birth of Jesus, because it’s the precursor to his return, to his final descent. And at that final descent, there’s no going back. Because what we do with Christmas, is what we’ll do with Jesus at his return.
If we accept God’s descent at Christmas, that means we accept we are sinners. We accept we can’t fix our broken relationship with God. And we accept that Jesus died for us, to save us from sin. And then, at Jesus’ return we will rejoice into eternity because we will be with the One who loves us and died for us.
If we reject God’s descent at Christmas, that means at Jesus’ return we will enter into eternity, by our own choice, in sorrow because we will understand what we have rejected.

So this Christmas I want to implore you, if you haven’t decided what to do with Christmas, accept Jesus as your Savior. Turn your life over to him. He loves you and has done more for you than you can imagine. And for the rest of your life here, until his return or your body’s decay, to find out how a relationship with God can transform your life. And all you have to do is accept what God has done, calling on him to give you the gift of his descent at Christmas.
But for you who have accepted Jesus as your Savior, your not off the hook. You get to rejoice in that day when you see your Savior, but you are given a job, to tell everyone God brings into your life about what he has done for them. About his four descents of creation, need, Christmas, and return. We are told by Jesus in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

We need to get out there and share Jesus with people. Don’t rely on a pastor, or someone else to do it. You have been given the Spirit of God, and he will speak through you. Let us not stand in front of Jesus with the knowledge that we could have done more for those sorrowing around us. Instead, let us stand in front of Jesus knowing that we spoke of his work to everyone he gave us. And in the old saying of the of the Alliance, let’s bring back the King!
My challenge for you this week is simple: on your way out there will be a picture for you to hang up. It has the four descents that we have talked about these past four weeks. Take one, hang it up where you will see it, and every time you do, thank God for this work, and ask him to help you speak his word to people so they might be saved.
Merry Christmas, may you accept the descents of God on your part this season, and look forward to the return of the King. Amen!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Descent Week 3 - God’s Descent in Christmas

In 1996 a movie called Matilda came out. It was based on the 1988 book of the same name. The basic premise of the story is that the little girl Matilda is the black sheep of her family. Where her father, mother, and brother are a bunch of dishonest, sneaky, and mindless TV watchers, Matilda is a smart and honest little girl. There’s more to the story, but that’s all we need to know about it, because it’s the father that always frightened me. Not frightened in the sense that he was a scary character, but frightened because he was exactly the type I never wanted to deal with.
See, he was a used car salesman, and already the stereotype of dishonesty should fill your minds. And the story plays off this stereotype. Matilda’s father is the epitome of deceit. He runs the odometer backwards to lower the mileage, he puts saw dust in the transmission to make it sound like it runs smooth, and he glues bumpers back on. Every sleazy shortcut that could be made, this guy makes it.
And growing up, you hear a lot of stories about shady dealings with car salesmen, and I don’t know why, but Matilda’s dad, has become, for me, the exact person I would never want to come in contact with when making a car purchase.
Because I don’t know about you, but when I making any type of purchase, one of the things I look for in a salesman is honesty. When I talk with a person who is trying to sell me something, I ask myself, do they seem genuine, or do they seem dishonest? Do they seem like they’re looking out for my best interest or their own?
That’s one of the reasons why I rely so heavily on reviews. Before I purchase something, or try a new restaurant, I first check the reviews from several websites to see if it’s any good. If it gets a four out of five or higher, I usually will go with it. If it’s lower, then I’m thinking it’ll probably not be the best place.
Checking reviews gives me a sense of equal footing with whatever I’m going to purchase. It gives me an understanding of what to expect, and can I trust that this is the best option for me.

And that’s where we come to our third week in our Descent series, a place of trust. Can I trust God? Are the reviews on him good? Is he working for good things in me, or is he like that car salesman, making a good show of it all, just to reel me in?

So if you have your Bibles we’re going to be in two passages today. The first one is the book of Job chapter 9. The second one will be the Gospel of Luke chapter 19. 

As we’re opening up to Job chapter 9 and Luke 19, let’s find ourselves, where we’re at in the Descent series so far. In the first week of our series we talked about the purposefulness of God’s creation. How, unlike other creation accounts, and even by today’s modern atheistic view, this universe was no accident. It was purposefully made by God out of a desire to do just that. This answers humanity’s greatest question of, “Why am I here,” with a fulfilling answer of, “Because God desires you and has purpose for you.” We have to understand God’s descent of a purposeful creation out of his desire to better understand Christmas.

That brings us to last week, where we talked about how, even though God created everything good, we, through our desire to do things our way and not God’s, have broken our relationship with God. These things we do that put us at the center and shove God to the side, is what God calls sin. And that sin has created a rift between us and God. But the story of the Old Testament, is the story of a Father trying to mend his relationship with his children. Time and time again we see God descend to humanity to fix what humanity has broken, and it seems to work for a little while, until again, humanity choses to go it’s own way, and breaks the relationship once again.
And it’s this cycle of God trying to mend, and humanity rejecting that we see throughout the pages of the Old Testament. And so God seeks a permanent fix for the problem.

Let’s pick up the beginnings of this fix in the book of Job, chapter 9, starting in verse 1.

Now for a little context, Job has had everything ripped away from him. His family and his wealth have all been destroyed. And now, as Job sits in agony, his friends add to his suffering by saying it’s all his own fault. But we know as the reader, that that’s not true. It’s Satan’s fault Job is in the predicament that he’s in. In fact, it’s because of how righteous Job is in God’s sight, that Job is where he’s at. And Job maintains this idea that he is innocent, yet the bad keeps happening to him. And it’s in chapter 9, that we see Job’s desire to speak with God face to face. 

“Then Job replied ‘2 Indeed, I know that this is true. But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God? 3 Though they wished to dispute with him, they could not answer him one time out of a thousand.’”

Job is wrestling with this idea about bringing his case before God. Asking, how can a mortal prove his innocence before God. In the verses that follow this question about bringing his case before God, Job continues on describing how powerful and mighty God is. So how can a person who is powerless, come before the One with the most power? How can a just case be carried out? We pick up his thinking in verse 14.

“How then can I dispute with him? How can I find words to argue with him? 15 Though I were innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my Judge for mercy. 16 Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing.”

Job’s view of God is almost like that of the stereotypical car salesman. Job is wrestling with this idea that, how do I know that God he would be just? Job’s thinking, even if I’m innocent, in a situation where I’m not in control, where I have to rely on someone else for judgement, how can I trust that God will be fair? Job even brings this up in verse 29, “Since I am already found guilty, why should I struggle in vain?”
Job is consigned to the fact that even though he is innocent, God has made him guilty. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes it can seem like God is being unfair. God has already judge me guilty and now I’m just carrying out an eternal sentence of pain and suffering.
But then something happens, one of the most profound things Job can say, he says starting in verse 32.

“32 He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. 33 If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, 34 someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. 35 Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”

This is profound, this is ground breaking, this is Christmas! Job sees the need for God and him to meet. But Job understands that since he is human and God is divine, there’s no way for him to be on an even playing field with God. But, Job thinks, what if there was someone? Someone who was both equal to God, and equal to man? Then, then the pleas of Job could be heard, and the relationship could be mended. 

And this is Christmas, God fulfilling this need for there to be a bridge between humanity and God. 

This is why the Bible says, “(Jesus) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself (Philippians 2:6-8a)…”

See in the Gospel accounts, Jesus again, and again, and again uses language that references him being God. In fact, about 180 times Jesus references himself as God. From being the source of healing (Matthew 8:7), to being the true source of life (John 6:35). But one of the most interesting things I have learned in the last couple of weeks has to deal with Jesus’ preferred title for himself. See Jesus uses this title of Son of Man, which he connects with a vision from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. 
In the vision Daniel says this, “13 In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
What was interesting is that in the ancient Middle East area another god, Baal, was called the Cloud Rider. When Daniel says he sees one like the son of man coming in the clouds, who is given authority, what he is seeing is God subverting the false god Baal, and saying, no it is the God of the Bible who is the cloud rider. And it is this divine person riding on the clouds that is in appearance like a human who will have everlasting authority over everything.
This is who Jesus says he is. The cloud rider, the divine person who has descended and become like humanity. Jesus is God who puts on the flesh of you and I and fulfills the desire of Job to have one that is equal to both God and man, who can finally bridge the gap and bring a lasting fix to the relationship problem. 

And this is where we move over to Luke chapter 19, because the reality is there’s more to it than just God coming to be with humanity. In Luke 19, we see just how far Jesus is willing to go.
The story goes that a tax collector, one of those dishonest car salesman types, invites Jesus to his house for dinner, and the people around him say this in verse 7, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
The people saw this tax collector, they hated him, he was slimy, and dishonest. He was a representation of everything wrong with their society and the government. People like him were so hated by the community that they couldn’t be a part of the synagogues, or a part of any religious festivals. They were rich, but they were limited in the people they could associate with. 
Yet Jesus was his guest. Jesus moved past the sin. Jesus moved past the social rejection, and the broken relationships it caused. Jesus moved past the brokenness of this person’s life and met with him.
And at the end of Jesus stay there, and the tax collector’s desire to restore a right relationship with the people by giving away his money, Jesus says this in verse 9, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

This is God’s desire, to seek and save us. To bring us back into right relationship with him. And so what does God do? He comes down to us. The Son is sent, takes on human flesh. He eats with us, he drinks with us, he cries with us, and he does it so that our relationship with him would be mended. This is why a disciple of Jesus’ says this about him, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).”

But Jesus even goes one step further, not only does he come down to humanity fulfilling Job’s desire for there to be a bridge between us and God, Jesus does something he shouldn’t, he makes things right, without a thing from us.

The whole thing of sin, is that a payment has to be made to make things right between us an God. It’s almost like credit. We have run up a credit with sin, where we have taken more than we can pay back. Sin is taking what isn’t ours, and death is the collection company. Our very death is the payment for doing things our way, and using what God has given us in the wrong ways. Lying, cheating, murder, gossip, sexual promiscuity, and the like are sins that cause us to be in debt to sin. And death is the only payment it will take.
But God wants his creation back. He wants us back to where we were when he first created us. A people that are with him in a close relationship. A relationship that is both fulfilling and loving. Where all our needs are met in God.
So what does God do? The Son becomes like us, so that he can pay the collection company. Jesus gives his life to pay our sin’s debt. It would be like one of those reviewers I check to see if a restaurant is good, coming in and paying my bill for me. Except Jesus’ sacrifice is to bring us out of death’s grip, and into God’s eternal life.
And what do we have to do? Accept it. We accept our sin, and we own it, not giving it excuses but actually being truthful that we are sinners, and it is us who have broken relationship with God. Then we accept that God paid our debt through Jesus. God became fully human, so that he could die for our sins, and mend the broken relationship that we caused. 
This is Christmas, that God descends to be with us, to be us, and to die for us. And then, after his death he raises from the dead. Linking Christmas and Easter as one descent and ascent of God. 

But that’s not the end. There’s still one more descent of God, and it’s the one that makes our decision about Christmas an eternal joy, or an eternal sorrow. And that’s what we’ll talk about next week in our final week of our Descent series.

But this week I want to challenge you with this thought: how has the descent of Christmas changed you? Are you still living your life in your own way, for your own desires? Maybe thinking that God is just a car salesman just out for his own good, and so you have to do good for yourself? Or has Christmas changed you, and moved you into a mended relationship with God? Understanding that God desires good for you, but that good can only come when you accept his gift of paying your debt off.

This is the challenge, because what we do with Christmas, leads us either into a eternity of joy, or an eternity sorrow. So what have you done with Christmas? 

Now may God reveal to you the bridge he made at Christmas through Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Descent Week 2 - God’s Descent In Our Need

There are many natural joys that come from being a father of young children. When I’m gone for a long time at work, I get greeted as if I’m a conquering hero when I walk through the door. On top of that, even the most simple things can make them laugh. Just the other night, my wife was reading a story to the children on the couch. It was at a tense moment in the story where nosies could be heard off in the distance, and then the nosies stopped. For dramatic effect, my wife paused. At that moment I grabbed one of the kids and yelled. Everyone jumped in surprise, having a great laugh at being startled.
But with the joys of being a father, comes the harder jobs that have to be done. Probably the most frustrating of jobs is discipline. In fact, I recently had a quick conversation with a man who agreed that disciplining children is not something that we find enjoyable. Now I will say, I don’t mind it. It doesn’t bother me to discipline my children, because I know that to discipline them is to help them become who God created them to be. What I find frustrating about disciplining children, is when I walk through the door, and instead of the hero’s welcome, I find that I have to be the disciplinarian.
And I know from experience, and from other people’s experience, that waiting for daddy to get home to administer discipline, is not a child’s favorite part of the father child relationship either. Many a kid has heard the words, “Just wait ’til your father gets home,” and have dreaded every second until he arrives. And as a kid, there’s this thought that, even though your parent tells you they don’t enjoy disciplining you, they really secretly do. As if parents are wringing their hands, just waiting for the next time their child messes up, so they can discipline them. 
Now I don’t know about you, but the truth is, when I get a call, or a text telling me that when I get home I need to discipline one of the kids, I don’t like that either. Not only does it put me in a sour mood, but I also know that the chances of me being greeted warmly are probably zero.
But in order for my children to grow up, they need discipline. And my job is to be one of two disciplinarians in my family. So when I get home and I have to discipline, I do it, because in the long run, it will produce better lives.

And that’s where we come to in our second week of our Descent sermon series. A place where daddy’s coming home and the children know there’s discipline coming with him. But here’s the thing, there’s more to the discipline than punishment. There’s a heart behind the discipline that a lot of times, children and we miss. So if you have your Bible’s we’re going to start in Genesis chapter 3, but we’re going to jump forward to Exodus chapter 3.

And as you open your Bibles to Genesis and Exodus 3, let’s catch up from last week, so we can see where we’re at.

Last week we asked one of the greatest questions humanity can ask, “Why am I here?” Then we looked at four creation accounts from ancient civilizations to answer that question. Three of the accounts told us that the universe was in chaos, from there, war, or strife created earth, and/or humans. These three creation accounts therefore gave us the answer to, “why am I here,” with the answer, “by chance”. This works well with the modern atheist and naturalist belief, that tells us that we are randomly here, with no purpose as to why.
I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sit right with me. Because it leaves so much on the table. Why then should I do anything? What then is meaning? The why’s continue, because these answers to the greatest question on earth, leaves us with a sour taste in our mouths, because they do not give a meaningful and satisfactory answer. 
But then we dove into the Bible’s account of creation, and we found that the Bible does give us a meaningful and satisfactory answer to the question. Because it shows us a very different creation. Where God creates out of a desire, and not by accident. That everything has purpose, and we are his image bearers.
And to understand that God is a purposeful Creator, is to begin to understand Christmas. But there is more to the story, and that’s where we come to Genesis chapter 3 today.

Now a lot of people know the story of Adam and Even and the eating of the forbidden fruit, where God gives the two first humans one rule, you can eat of any fruit in the garden, except for the fruit from this one tree. With that understanding, I want us to fast forward the story a little bit to the aftermath of eating the forbidden fruit. So let’s pick up the story in verse 7. So they eat the fruit and then it says…

7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Here we see what a lot of parents experience on a daily basis. Kids do something they know they’re not supposed to do, and what action do they take? They hide. “Daddy is coming home, quick, clean it up, fix the broke vase, hide the food,” they say. Why, because just like children, Adam and Eve didn’t want what they knew was coming, a discipline.

Now if we continue on into the rest of the situation here, we find out that there is indeed discipline. There’s discipline for the serpent who coerced Eve into eating the fruit. There’s discipline for Eve, who fell for it. There’s discipline for Adam for allowing the whole thing to happen.
And it’s easy to look at God in this situation, and think, he flew off the handle. I mean, it was only one piece of fruit. Did God really need to discipline all of humanity for such a minuscule infraction?
And when we start down that line of thinking, it’s easy to see God as that mean disciplinarian that we’re waiting for as a child to come home. But if we look at God in that light we miss him, we miss the heart of the matter. 

To get at this the heart of God and understand hi side in the disciple that has to happen, to me, there’s no better place to see it than in Exodus chapter 3. Like the story of Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit, the story of Moses and the burning bush is known by a lot of people. Moses sees a bush that is on fire, but isn’t being burned up, so he goes over to investigate it. It’s there in verse 4 that we pick up the story.

4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Here we begin to see the heart of God for his creation. He sees Moses and calls out for him to come closer.
But, in verse 5 we see the broken relationship between God and humanity that happened back in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve usually walked with God with no barriers, but because they ate of the forbidden fruit, barriers between the perfect God, and the now corrupted creation were put up. Those barriers are what the Bible calls sin. In Moses’ encounter with God, we see that Moses cannot get any closer to God because God is holy, he is perfect, and Moses is not. God is perfect, but Moses is like his ancestors Adam and Eve, lost in sin. Moses murder someone, causing his own sin to put up barriers between himself and God.
In verse 6, when God introduces himself, Moses recognizes the broken relationship with humanity and God, and his own sin, this is why Moses hides his face. He’s not just physically hiding his face, but relationally as well. Just as Adam and Eve hid from God, so too, Moses hides from him. And it says, Moses was afraid. He understands the perfection of God, and his own imperfection.
And this is the child knowing he has done wrong, and here’s his father coming to the door. I have found my children underneath their covers hiding from me when I have to discipline them. I remember when I was around four years old, I gave another child a bloody nose. I remember running to my house to hide, because I knew I would be disciplined for what I had done.

And we could end there, with an understanding of God as this allusive, and tyrannical disciplinarian. We could end with this understanding that there is a separation between God and humanity. That we need to hide from the wrath of God. And you know what, many people do. Many people see the God of the Old Testament and see a vengeful, wrathful, angry God that is out to discipline humanity for crimes they had no hand in.
But if we do, if we stop there, we miss the heart of this Father. We miss the true purpose of the discipline. We miss the God who is not out to destroy us, but rather to restore us.

Verse 7, God says, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.”
God tells Moses, I have heard their suffering, and I am concerned. I personally know the feeling of concern a parent has for their child. I see that very same concern from God.
But it doesn’t end there. It says in the next verse, “8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”

This is monumental. We saw last week that God came down to create, and to be with his creation. God descended to create out of a desire to do just that. At the beginning of today, we saw that humanity broke that relationship. It would be easy for God to wash his hands of us and move on. But no, God comes down again. He descends again, but this time it’s to seek to restore his relationship with humanity.
This is why Jesus tells the story of the Father with the Two Sons, or if you like, the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (11-32). I think of that story as concerning the Father more than the sons. The story is simple, a father has two sons. The youngest wants his inheritance, receives it, and leaves the family. Eventually the youngest son squanders the inheritance, and returns. And this is where we see the heart of the father. Since his son had left, the father had been watching for his return. And when the father sees the son in the distance, the father runs to restore the relationship.
This is what we see from God throughout the Old Testament. God descending to restore the relationship that we broke. Every time we do something that goes against God, we add to the breakage of the relationship that Adam and Eve began.
Yet, God continues to descend. God continues to run to us. God continues to hear our suffering and he is concerned.
The Old Testament is the story of the father returning home to discipline his children, and the children being in fear of him. But here is what we must understand about the father, this is what we must understand about God: the father doesn’t discipline because he wants to break the relationship, the child has already done that, no, the father disciplines to bring the child back into a right relationship with the family.
When I discipline my children, I try to end with two things: talking about the reason for the discipline, and a hug. Children need to know that their discipline is a result of their actions, not the father’s love. The father’s love is in the discipline, because through the discipline, the relationship is restored.
But there is a caveat, the relationship will continue to be broke, because we want our own way more than God’s. And so, we see God in the Old Testament descend again, and again, and again to mend the relationship we continue to break. This is the descent of God in our rebellion, in our need.
And in order to bring a finalized mending, God must descend again, but this time in a different way. This third descent of God is what we will talk about next week.

But for this week I want to challenge you with this: have you recognized your own rebellion against God? How do you hide your life from him? What things have you done, or are doing, that if your father came to you, you would be hiding under your covers?
I want to challenge you this week to search your heart, ask God to search you as well, and then talk to him about those things are you hiding. Remember, God desires to restore your relationship with him, not to beat you down. But we need to recognize in our own lives, what God calls sin, those things that we do that are opposite of what God wants.
And when we confess those things, Scripture tells us he is faith and just to forgive them (1 John 1:9). 
Let us recognize that God comes to us, even while we sin, even while we rebel because he is our Creator, caring deeply for those he has made out of his desire.

Let us look upon God as the father who comes home, and let us be a people who give him the greeting as the conquering hero, and love him as our disciplinarian. Because in both cases, he is there so that our relationship with him would be restored, and we would live a full and joyous life. 
Now may your relationship with your heavenly Father emulate the relationship of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Descent Week 1 - God’s Descent In Creation

As we’e coming up to the Christmas season, the Sunday school kids are starting to go through the Christmas story. An interesting thing happen last week, in both classes the kids started to ask questions about where babies come from. This put the teachers on the spot, with one of them giving an answer and telling the kids, if they want to learn any more, they need to ask their parents.
Children can be a fount of questions. Asking scientific question like, where does lighting come from, to asking questions like, why can’t I hear when I stick my finger into my ear. Children are curious about the world around them, and through their eyes, we can be challenged by what they ask. And some of these question that children ask, we ask as well. We’re curious about the world around and about ourselves, and so we search for the answers to our questions.

And the most important question humanity has ever sought an answer to is, why am I here? It’s a big question that asks, what is my purpose. It’s a question from which so many other questions can spring from. Because when we start to think about it, there are roughly 7 billion people in this world, how do I fit into such a large population? The question gets even bigger when we start to understand the vastness of the world. We can take all those people, and if we cleared out all the buildings, we could put them in the city of New York. That’s how big our planet is. And if it’s that big, think about the universe. The more we think about it, the more insignificant we become. No wonder we have midlife crises’, the reason why we’re here is a huge question, because it gives reason why we should continue on or not.

To understand our purpose and to answer why we are here, what better place than to look at the creation stories of the world’s religions? For thousands of years, humanity has put forth different ways in which the world could have come into being. I want us to take a look at four of those creation stories, so that we can see which one is the best in answering the deep question of why are we here?

First, let’s start with one of the most ancient creation stories coming out of Babylon. This begins with chaos. Two gods emerge, Apsu and Tiamat, these are the fresh and salt waters. Together they mix and create other gods. But Apsu doesn’t like these gods and wished to kill them. One of Apsu and Tiamat’s children Ea, learned about Apsu’s desire to kill his children. Ea lulled Apsu to sleep and murdered him. Tiamat sought revenge for Apsu’s death, but she was killed by another child named Marduk. Marduk took Tiamut’s body and made the heavens and the earth from it. Humanity was then made out of Tiamut’s second husband. 

Another creation story comes from China. In this account, like in the Babylonian account, there was chaos. But in this case, there is no god, but rather chaos cracks, and heaven and earth break away from each other. The clear and high aspects of the universe rose to become heaven. While the dark formed the earth. It is here that the first born of the universe, P’an-ku is formed, standing in the middle between heaven and earth bringing stability between the two. As he does this, parasites begin eating his body, and from this, humanity was created.

Still another, more familiar, creation story comes from Greece. Again we start with chaos, from chaos came the earth, Gia. Gia produced the sky to cover herself, the sky was named Uranus. Their children were the Titans, elemental gods. But Uranus did not want these children to be free and tried to lock them away within Tartarus. But Gia loved her children and created a sickle for her youngest Cronus. He used it to castrate his father. Later Cronus fashioned man and they lived perfect lives. Until one of Cronus’ sons, Zeus, overcame his father and made humanities lives extremely hard.

Of these three creation stories, like most ancient creation stories, they have a lot of similarities. Chaos begets chaos. Children rebel and kill their parents. Humanity emerges out of strife. It is the gods who cause strife for humanity.
In almost every ancient creation story, there is one constant idea about humanity, we’re an after thought, or at the most, a nuisance of chance.
Each of these creation stories, answers the question of why are we hear with the same answer that modern atheist give, there’s really no reason at all.

But how does that sit with our own feeling? Why do we pursue more knowledge? Why do we reach for new experiences? Why do we feel a sense that there is more?
Because there is more. That’s the story of God’s creation account.

Since we are looking at ancient creation stories, let’s look at the Bible’s creation account through the lens of an ancient reader. If you have your Bibles we’re going to be comparing the Bible’s creation story to the ones I just shared with you.

The story starts out with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

From the start we see a major difference. Chaos rules and from chaos the gods are formed. This automatically leads into more chaos. But here we see that God proceeds chaos. That from here on out, nothing comes into being without God’s expressed desire for it to occur.

It continues, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

We don’t see accidental creation here. Instead, we see a craftsman at work. A formless empty place, stands before the sculpture ready to be fashioned into anything he desires. So he gets to work.

Starting in verse 3, we see God create light, we see God create time when he marks off the days. We see God create the a canopy of sky to cover his land. Then he creates areas of dry land, adding on to them vegetation.

In verse 14, we start to see God putting lights in the sky. The Sun, the moon, the stars. These are to give the earth cycles of day, night, and seasons.

Then in verse 20, he populates the oceans and sky with life. Blessing it to become full., spreading throughout it’s vastness.
Then he creates land animals, and eventually humans. But, unlike all of his created work so far, humans are different. They require a conversation about how he is going to create them, with the very image of their Creator. A distinction no other creature receives.
Then as we move into the second chapter, not only does he create these humans, he places them in a special garden. A garden where he comes to meet with his image bearers. 
All this, God calls very good, and at the end of the creation story, there is no chaos, there is no fighting, there is only what the craftsman said he desired. A place where he could interact with his creation.

No other creation story brings together the will and power of it’s Creator. Most creation stories tell us that chaos creates chaos. Where strife, war and death are the only constants. In other creation accounts, like that of Hinduism, the creator is unsure what he wants, taking eons to decide.
But the God of the Bible is distinct. He is purposeful in his creation. He is more powerful than it. And he builds it so that his creation has purpose.

As we begin our Christmas sermon series, we are talking about the descent of God. God descending to his creation. What we have to understand is that God descending to his creation is not something uncommon for the God of the Bible. In fact, God created this world so that he could descend to it. He purposefully builds a world where he can meet with his created beings. 

In fact if we take a moment and look at this world as an ancient reader would, we can see how much this first descent of God matters.

In the prophet Isaiah’s book, God says this about the world, “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the Lord (66:1-2).”

God asks this question, “Where will my resting place be?” This question is a reference to the resting place of the gods of other religions in their temples. A resting place is a place where the gods of other religious would have their statues housed. Their images would rest there. But God is telling the people that they cannot make a place for him to rest, because he has already done that.

This creation is a place for his rest. He has created it, and has placed his own image there. We are his image placed in his temple. 

We also see later on as we read through Genesis, that God walks in the garden in the cool of the day. Later on God would establish a time of sacrifice (1 Kings 18:36). This time corresponded with God’s presence in the garden and God’s presence with his people as they sacrificed.

All of this points to answering that question of why are we here: Because God desired us. In every other belief system, you and I are an afterthought. Something that just happened because. 

But, God descends, crafting his creation into what he desired it to be. Crafting a place where he and his creation meet together. This creation speaks to us, because it answers the question our lives long to hear: you are not random, who are not an afterthought, you were created with purpose.

And in order to get a full understanding of Christmas, we must understand this first descent of God. The descent of creation. God making a space where he could come to meet with this created beings. Where he could house his image. To understand the God’s descent at creation, is to better understand the need for his descent at Christmas. But it isn’t the only descent of God that we need to understand, and next week, we’ll talk about that. 

My challenge for you this week is simply to answer the question why am I here? I know why I’m here, but the question is why are you here? Do you believe you were created by a loving God? Or do you believe you were a product of random chance out of chaos? 
And if you have trouble answering that question, I am available to have a conversation about it.
But each of us needs to ask this question, because when we do, Christmas moves from being another holiday, to being an awesome God’s descent to humanity.

Let us understand God’s descent of creation, so we may understand his descent of Christmas, and accept God’s answer to the question, “Why am I here?” Amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mark, Week 41 - What Do We Do With Jesus?

For some of you history buffs out there, the name Hiroo Onoda might ring a bell to you. If the name doesn’t spark in your mind, then his story might. Hiroo was a Japanese man who died in 2014 at the age of 91. In World War 2 he was a young intelligence lieutenant stationed on Lubang Island near in the Philippines.
He was given one order, to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die. So for twenty-nine years, Hiroo carried out his orders. With three other soldiers by his side, Hiroo conducted attacks on the local population killing about 30 people. Attempts by search parties and leaflet drops were made to stop Hiroo, but he chalked them up to America ploys.
Finally in 1974, Hiroo’s former commanding officer was flown in to rescind his original orders.
Hiroo was a man who fought with everything he had. For almost three decades he followed his orders. Even when all the world had moved on, even trying to bring Hiroo along with them, he still did what he signed up for.
Hiroo believed he was still in a war, and for almost 30 years, nothing could change his mind.

That’s where we come to the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark today, a place where what we believe is called into question.

Now, this is the last chapter. There’s no more from the hand of Mark as he listens to Peter speak about Jesus. And to understand everything so far, let’s take a step back and get a snapshot of what we are supposed to walk away with.

From chapters one thru four, Mark focused heavily on who Jesus was. He was a person who held authority over God’s Word, and both the physical and spiritual realms. Again and again, through these chapters, we see that Jesus is no mere man, but God come who entered our world.
Then in chapters four through eight, we saw Jesus’ focus shift from teaching to great crowds, to purposefully building up his disciples to take over from him. Culminating in Jesus’ question to Peter, “Who do you say I am?” When Peter answers, “The Messiah,” Jesus’ agains shifts his focus, this time to the cross.
And from chapters eight through fourteen, Jesus works with his disciples and their lack of understanding and faith. It’s a two steps forward, one step back type of situation. 
Finally, at the end of chapter fourteen and into fifteen, Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified.
Mark’s Gospel is a journey for us to take, to see what we will do with Jesus. We start out with Jesus, learning about him as the disciples did. We experience their victories, but as soon as we do, we begin to see their defeats. And with every moment of movement closer to understanding Jesus, there’s a new revelation about him, that challenges the way we think. We are to walk this journey with the disciples as they discover who Jesus is. And we are challenge, just as the disciples were, to be prepared for a time when our faith will be rocked. Jesus tells us to be on our guard. Then the moment of trial comes, and we are faced with the question, do we still believe? When Jesus is ripped away from us, do we still believe? Or have we become like the disciples who left Jesus?

It’s at this point we come to Mark’s final chapter. Let’s read starting in verse 1.

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Now, in most Bibles you’ll see that there is a break between verse 8 and 9. It’s says something like this, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.”
That means that as we discover older and older manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, the older manuscripts don’t have verses 9-20. Now, if the earliest manuscripts didn’t have verses 9-20, then why do we keep them in? 
Are they unbiblical? Well, no, we see similar words and actions by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, and the book of Acts.
Should we cut them out? Well, they have been a part of translations of thousands of years, and are consistent with biblical teaching, so we don’t. But we are made aware by the translators that it could be that the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8.

Here’s my thoughts, if God desired that these words not be put in, it would have been a simple process for him to keep them out. So we’re going to approach this by including all 20 verses. But, no matter if we stop at verse 8 or at verse 20, the point of Mark is the same.

In verses 1-8, we pick up from Jesus being laid in the tomb. Mark doesn’t give us the details about the guards, or the conspiracies that surrounded Jesus’ missing body that are talked about in the other Gospels. Instead, all we’re told is that a handful of woman showed up to perform the proper Jewish burial rituals, but find that Jesus is gone.
Instead of Jesus, the women find a man, an angel, in a white robe, and he tells them that Jesus has gone to Galilee. The man also tells them to tell all the disciples, singling out Peter, that Jesus is on his way.
And what do the women do? What any sane person would. They run off and they keep their mouths shut.
Now if we end here, there’s some interesting things: First, we get no final dialogue from Jesus, no final words to close on from him. We just end with the angel’s words that the women need to tell the other disciples that Jesus has risen. Secondly, Peter is specifically called out for restoration. The angel’s words are meant to let all the disciples know that Jesus is desiring to meet with them. With Peter being assured that Jesus wants to meet with him as well.  The thirds interesting things, is that the Gospel would then end on a choice. What do the women do next? Mark is sharing, do there as to be more to the story about what happens after the close of the Gospel.
If we end here, we could come away with the question looming over our heads, “What would you do if Jesus rose from the dead? Would you keep quiet, or would you go tell?”

A good cliff hanger to end on. This type of ending brings us back to the question that Mark has been trying to have us answer. The question that Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” With Mark’s cliffhanger, we’re asked the same question in a slightly different way. The question becomes more of, “What are you going to do with Jesus?”
Are you going to follow Jesus, or are you going to reject him?

Yet, we know there’s more to the story. And whether we just haven’t found the older manuscript with this ending, or it was a way for the early Church to remind people that Jesus sent his disciples to spread the Gospel, it gives us a little more insight into what that more is.

From these we see that the women eventually did share with the disciples that Jesus had raised from the dead, but, in what has become their regular routine, the eleven disciples didn’t believe. 
If fact, we’re told twice that they didn’t believe. And when Jesus eventually does show up, he rebukes them. Chastising them for not believing. But really, what else did Jesus expect? They haven’t really been believing Jesus since they had their spiritual high back at the end of chapter five. Their still living in past victories.
This passage ends with Jesus sending the disciples out, in his authority, and them actually doing it.

So, with this ending we get a more happy ending, and who doesn’t like a happy ending? The women believe, the disciples believe, and everyone’s out there fighting the good fight.

So, as we finish up the Gospel of Mark after forty-one weeks, and around a 100,000 words said, what do we walk away from this whole experience with? Well, I wish I could be a better preacher, a better teacher, a better expositor of God’s Word, but you know what, I only get one thing.
And that’s, it’s hard to believe. No matter if we end at verse 8, or verse 20, I see the same people struggling to believe. The women struggled to believe that Jesus had risen. The eleven struggled to believe that Jesus had risen. And if I’m honest with myself, there have been times when I find myself just like these disciples.

Now that’s probably not something that you want to hear. A pastor struggles with Jesus’ resurrection? And the reality is yes, there have been times when I have. 
Even though I know the arguments, even though I know the evidence, there’s that voice that says, “Did he really?’

And it’s easy to not believe, because people don’t seem to raise from the dead that often. In fact, I’ve done a few funerals, and not one of those people has came back to life yet.

But Mark leaves us on that idea, it’s easy to not believe. What’s hard is to trust and follow Jesus. After 16 chapters, we end with this, it’s easy to not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and it’s hard to trust and follow him.
Yet, that’s what God calls us to do. To believe, to trust, to accept his word on the subject, and to move forward. To go out and be a part of his work. To share with others, what Jesus has done. To draw ever closer to him when the good and the bad happen.

There are some amazing things Mark tells us about Jesus. Things that, even in our day, people don’t do. I’ve seen a magician try to walk on water, to with he did, but as he said, with the help of about a dozen people. I have seen great people speak and open Gods’ Word to me in new and different ways, but they always point me back to Jesus, who was greater at it.
And we are called to believe this Jesus, who we have never met in the flesh, like these disciples did, and it can be hard to believe it.
When are physical things of this life, poverty, stock market crashes, being laid off from work, people dying. With all those things, we are called to believe this Jesus. Mark is calling us to believe this Jesus, and even those who were with him have trouble doing it, just like me. It’s easy to not believe. 
And when I do step out in trust of Jesus, I find that it is hard. It is hard to trust, when I see people suffer. It is hard to trust, when I see the struggles. It’s hard to trust, when everything around me says don’t.
But it’s when I trust, when I move past my unbelief that I find it all makes sense. And the closer I cling to God, the more clear the picture becomes. And everything Mark is asking me to believe in, falls into place.

So the natural question then is, where are you? Where are you in your relationship with Jesus? Have you started? Have you accept Jesus’ work on your behalf? Have you recognized your sin, and your need for God to save you? Each of us has to come to a place where we recognize that we are fall short of God’s goodness, because it’s only at that place that we are ready to believe what Jesus has done for us to bring us into God’s goodness. Not by anything we have done, but because of everything he has done for us. If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior, now is the time to take inventory of what you have done, the perfection that God requires, and the work of Jesus on your behalf. Then all that is needed to receive God’s gift of salvation is to accept it and to follow.
If you have accepted Jesus as you Savior where are you now? Are you doubting? Are you disbelieving? Are you at a high point, or a low point in your relationship? Are you active with God in his work? Or are you taking a break?
At the end of Mark we are all challenged to evaluate our relationship with Jesus. To ask, am I moving closer to him, or further away?

My challenge for you this week is to answer this question, “Where am I in my relationship with God?” And be honest. If you have no relationship, I challenge you to seek the truth. Learn the arguments for and against God. Challenge your thinking of who he is.
If you have accepted Jesus, then where are you now? Is he just a roommate in your life, or is he the Lord of it? Are you working for him, or trying to get him to work for you.

Let us be honest with where we are, because if we’re not, how can we move on from Mark, when we’re not willing to answer it’s most important question, “Who do we say Jesus is?” 
Now may the Father who sent the Son to die for us, empower you by the Spirit to move ever closer to him in relationship. Amen.